Book Review: “The Exodus You Almost Passed Over”

Pesach

Passover table

Why is Rabbi David Fohrman’s new book, The Exodus You Almost Passed Over, different from all other books? The answer is that the Haggadah’s account you learned, first as a child and then repeated as an adult, is not the whole story.

Rabbi Fohrman concedes that the Exodus narrative in the Haggadah may hold one’s interest the first few times read but over time you probably would have preferred the CliffsNotes version so as to get to the food sooner.

However if you learned nothing else during the annual reading of the Haggadah, and the ensuing discussions, it should come as no surprise that there were two biblical Pharaohs, one good — and one not so good. Joseph’s Pharaoh was good. Moses’ Pharaoh was bad. But that’s not where the story ends; in fact, that is where the hidden Exodus story begins.

Fohrman an Orthodox scholar, takes us on a journey full of unexpected twists and turns driven by his respectful exegesis of biblical texts and commentaries. He explores the passages in the Torah that the Haggadah is based on. For example, did you know that Israelites went out from Egypt, with Pharaoh’s permission, hundreds of years before the Exodus? (Genesis 50) Really, how could we have missed that? He calls the first exodus the Phantom Exodus because it has heretofore been hidden from view, since it isn’t featured in the Haggadah. In it, the key players are not Moses, Aaron and the Pharaoh of Moses, but rather those who preceded them, namely Jacob, Joseph and Joseph’s Pharaoh. He draws out amazing parallels between the two events, which shed light on their deeper meaning, God’s plans for the Israelites and for us, their descendants.

Curiously, one of the revered patriarchs, Jacob, was embalmed even though that practice was considered a sacrilege, an Egyptian ritual shunned by Israelites. You probably already knew that God changed the names of two of the biblical patriarchs, Avram to Abraham and Jacob to Israel, but did you also know that God changed His own name as well?

And who isn’t familiar with the contest between team Moses against the magicians of team Pharaoh in the ‘rods and snakes’ competition? But it turns out that the match was more than a carnival sideshow; it proved to be the opening salvo of an epic battle between God and Pharaoh. What if Pharaoh hadn’t hardened his heart and instead had let the Israelites go with his full approval? Would God have blessed Egypt as well as blessing the Israelites? Would Pharaoh’s army have been an honor guard to escort them out of Egypt, rather than a pursuing force with the intention of unceremoniously dragging them back to Egypt? In a way, did the army of Egypt serve as an honor guard, even though their intention was to attack and recapture the Israelites?

There is a paradoxical characteristic about this book. It is both a page turner and not a page turner. It is a page turner because the reader is eager to turn the page in order to find the answers to intriguing questions Fohrman poses. It is not a page turner because Frohman’s analysis of events gives the reader pause to ponder and contemplate viewpoints he has presented.

The author’s style and mode of presenting his material are comprised of three characteristics. The first is he provides ample footnotes thus displaying his depth of knowledge as a result of extensive research into the commentaries of Torah scholars. The second is his ability to explain difficult concepts in easily understood laymen’s terms. And finally, the third characteristic is that he cleverly employs the element of suspense to segue from one chapter to the next.

If you like surprises and revelations about biblical events, supported by lucid interpretations of biblical texts, then Rabbi Fohrman’s book is one you will thoroughly enjoy reading. With each page comes a new disclosure or insight into the biblical narrative of the Exodus. I highly recommend that you read this book and learn what you may have almost passed over.

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